Thursday November 10th, 2005

Five former Enron Broadband executives face new indictments…Canada opens consulate in Houston…UH economics professor calls recent hurricanes economically worse than previous natural disasters because of damage to ports and energy infrastructure… Five former executives of the Internet business of Enron have been indicted again on similar–but narrower–charges. A special Enron grand jury has issued three […]

Five former Enron Broadband executives face new indictments…Canada opens consulate in Houston…UH economics professor calls recent hurricanes economically worse than previous natural disasters because of damage to ports and energy infrastructure…

Five former executives of the Internet business of Enron have been indicted again on similar–but narrower–charges. A special Enron grand jury has issued three indictments. The five men were defendants in a trial that ended in a mistrial. U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore of Houston already has set 2006 dates for the retrials. The defendants had asked the judge to acquit them because of the mistrial. The Houston Chronicle reports Gilmore has not ruled on that or other motions in the case. The five men were accused of trying to profit by lying to shareholders and the market about the value of Enron’s Broadband Division. Enron filed for bankruptcy protection after its stock collapsed in 2001.

As for the defendants, Scott Yeager had been acquitted of all fraud and conspiracy charges. Yeager was indicted yesterday on five counts of insider trading and eight charges of money laundering. He will be retried in June. Joe Hirko and Rex Shelby were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud, and multiple counts of securities or wire fraud and insider trading. Hirko was acquitted in July on some insider-trading and money-laundering charges, but the jury deadlocked on conspiracy and fraud charges. Shelby was acquitted of some insider-trading charges, but the jury deadlocked on conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. The two will be tried together in September. Kevin Howard and Michael Krautz face new indictments on charges that they conspired to commit wire fraud and falsify books and records, as well as three counts of wire fraud and one count of falsifying books and records. The first jury deadlocked on conspiracy and fraud charges against them.

Canadian consulate ribbon-cutting Canada’s ambassador to the United States joined Mayor Bill White in officially opening the Canadian consulate in Houston. Ambassador Frank McKenna says Texas and Canada have an extraordinary relationship because of existing ties.

Ambassador Frank McKenna audio 1

Houston-based energy companies are major investors across Canada. Ambassador McKenna says because of NAFTA, for the past six years Canada has become the largest supplier of crude and refined oil products combined to the U.S.

Ambassador Frank McKenna audio 2

Ambassador McKenna says opening the consulate will mean increased opportunities for both countries.

Ambassador Frank McKenna audio 3

Diana Simsovic will serve as Consul and Trade Commissioner of Canada in Houston. There are now 83 consulates in Houston.

A seminar today at the Magnolia Hotel focused on energy sector investment opportunities in Canada. The Canadian law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain presented the one-day seminar, which looked applications for approvals of all types of facilities, including heavy oil and oil sands, liquefied natural gas and pipeline projects and tolls and tariffs.

University of Houston Economics Professor Barton Smith says Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will wreak more economic havoc that previous natural disasters because of destruction on ports and energy infrastructure. But at his annual economic forecast symposium, Dr. Smith doubts there will be the predicted post-hurricane economic boom for Houston, in the long-term.

Barton Smith audio

Smith says consumers–already hit by rising interest rates, reduced employer contributions to health care and worries over the viability of pension plans–will face much higher home heating costs. He says past hurricanes have had minimal effects on the national economy, but energy shocks have always had major effects.

More than $500 million of individual assistance has been provided to Texans affected by Hurricane Rita since a federal disaster declaration was issued on September 24th, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. Over 216,000 individuals and families have received a share of the FEMA assistance. Housing assistance accounts for $461 million of that amount. Housing assistance is provided when an applicant’s home is destroyed or damaged beyond use and there is no insurance to meet the need for housing. Over $24 million has been provided to date for housing assistance in Harris County.

A Houston attorney says he will closely watch the trial of a Dutch businessman accused of shipping a chemical to Iraq. Gulf War veterans say they were exposed to chemical weapons made from the ingredient. Gary Pitts is representing veterans in a Texas lawsuit against Alcolac and other companies that allegedly provided chemicals to Iraq that were later turned into weapons. Meanwhile, 63-year-old Frans Van Anraat has acknowledged selling the chemicals, but denies wrongdoing. His attorneys say he was misled by an Iraqi chemicals dealer and didn’t know the industrial chemicals he shipped would be used by the military. Van Anraat is expected to be tried in November or December in the Netherlands. He’s charged with complicity in genocide for allegedly supplying Saddam Hussein’s regime with tons of chemicals later used in attacks against Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s.

Baylor College of Medicine has purchased almost five acres of land on Main Street near the Texas Medical Center, according to the Houston Chronicle, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Baylor acquired the property from the Redstone Companies for future development, although no plans have been finalized.

The chairman of American Airlines today told a U.S. Senate panel that “a deal’s a deal” when it comes to the Wright Amendment. Gerard Arpey urged lawmakers to keep the 1979 law, which Southwest Airlines seeks to have repealed. The Wright Amendment–named for now-former House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth–restricts long-haul flights from Dallas Love Field. The law was enacted to bolster Dallas-Fort Worth International Airports during its early years. American calls DFW Airport home. Southwest Airlines is based at Love Field. Arpey says American played no role in creation of the law. He says the nation’s largest carrier has based billions of dollars of business decisions on the thought that “a deal’s a deal.” But Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher says the Wright Amendment wasn’t a matter of public policy. Kelleher says it was a matter of political power. The head of the panel opened the hearing by acknowledging local and regional issues are at play. But Montana Senator Conrad Burns says the dispute should be considered in the context of Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization due in 2007. Burns says the issue will affect the entire aviation system. Fort Worth Congresswoman Kay Granger says the Wright Amendment is a compromise that has lasted and worked well. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison says the issue is a local one and local community leaders should be the ones to come up with a resolution.

A team vying to manage Los Alamos National Laboratory opened an office today in Espanola, New Mexico. The team includes the University of Texas and Lockheed Martin. The team wants former Sandia National Laboratories Director C. Paul Robinson to head the Los Alamos Lab, which has been managed by the University of California since it was formed during World War II. UC and Bechtel Corporation have teamed for a bid on the contract. Robinson says the Texas-Lockheed Martin team has opened the Espanola office because it plans to be in Northern New Mexico for a very long time. The winner of the lab contract is expected to be announced by December 1st.

Natural-food grocer Whole Foods Market posted strong sales growth but saw profits slump last quarter. Officials with the Austin-based company cited higher costs related to Hurricane Katrina, which knocked out two of its Louisiana stores. Whole Foods earned $9.1 million for the three months that ended September 25th. That compares to year-ago net income of $28.2 million. The $9.1 million figure included pretax costs related to Katrina, stock-based compensation and early adoption of a rule change in lease accounting.

If copper workers ratify an agreement as expected and a bankruptcy judge approves it, the four-month strike against Asarco officially will end. But the costs were enormous. Industry analyst George Leaming says it’s what you call a lose-lose situation–“everybody lost over the last four months.” This week’s tentative agreement will keep wages and benefits at pre-strike levels through December 31st of 2006. Workers were to begin three days of voting on the plan. Asarco’s 1,500 production employees in seven unions went on strike July 2nd after contracts expired June 30th at three sites in Arizona and its refinery in Amarillo. Workers at its other three operations had been without a contract for one year. Then in August, the Arizona-based subsidiary of the Mexican company Grupo Mexico filed for bankruptcy protection.

Raising bison these days isn’t just about giving consumers a different meat. Now, instead of cattle, some who train cutting horses for competition are using the animals. The Texas Bison Association is partially banking on that interest of cutting horse enthusiasts. The association will hold its first bison auction Saturday at the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. The group hopes it will become an annual event. It will welcome breeders, buyers interested in serving bison for the holidays, or simply aficionados of the iconic North American animal. Experts say bison are good animals for cutting horse training because they have stamina, handle heat better than cattle and rarely stand still. In the 1800s, tens of millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. Now, about 250,000 remain–only 16,000 in the wild.

Willie Nelson is taking his enthusiasm for clean-burning biodiesel to the corporate boardroom. Mississippi-based Biodiesel manufacturer Earth Biofuels announced today that it has appointed Nelson to its board of directors. Nelson says he’s excited about working with the company because they share the same goals in advancing the biodiesel industry. Company chief executive Tommy Johnson calls Nelson a supporter of biodiesel fuel who is very knowledgeable about the industry. The company currently produces about two million gallons of biodiesel at a facility in Meridian, Mississippi. Construction is under way on a larger plant in Oklahoma. Nelson and three business partners recently formed a company called Willie Nelson’s Biodiesel that is marketing the fuel to truck stops. The product–called Biowillie–is made from vegetable oils and can be burned without modification to diesel engines.

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